WashCo Bikes and Free Bikes 4 Kidz refurbish and redistribute thousands of free bikes out of Lake Oswego campus
Within former classrooms at the old Marylhurst campus in Lake Oswego, volunteers for WashCo Bikes and Free Bikes 4 Kidz adjust saddles, pump up tires and optimize brake pedals.
The nonprofit organizations — with the help of Ridwell — recently collected around 4,000 donated bikes and are working to distribute them to people in need across the region.
"They're not just a recreational tool. They are a form of independence for a kid. They get to go from the Xbox carpal tunnel to riding around apartment complexes, parks," said Joe Kurmaskie, the executive director of WashCo Bikes. "Bikes are meaningful in that they give people independence, a form of transportation; they give them health. And it's good for their mental health as well."
Getting all those bikes was a team effort, according to Kurmaskie. They relied on a one-day Providence event where they recently collected 1,200 bikes from people wishing to donate them. Ridwell — which helps people recycle materials like batteries and lightbulbs appropriately — asked half of its members for donated bikes and wound up collecting nearly 3,000, representative Taylor Loewen said. Kurmaskie, for one, was amazed by the level of participation from Ridwell members.
"These are people who are extremely intentional. These are some of the most dedicated people in Portland who really care about where their items go," Loewen said. "It's the perfect group of people to activate around these interesting causes and projects."
Loewen added that Ridwell had four to five trucks a day solely dedicated to picking up bikes and that they were able to fit 22 bikes in each truck. The company already routinely picks up hard-to-recycle items from its members.
"It was an interesting challenge to figure out how to pick up extra items at people's doorsteps," she said.
Kurmaskie, who noted that his organization encompasses Lake Oswego and other areas of Clackamas County, said Marylhurst ended up being the location of choice because it had available space and they had the connections to set up there.
Once the bikes arrive, Kurmaskie helps organize them by size and whether or not the bike is salvageable or should be scrapped for spare parts. Then the mechanics, who are just volunteers and often don't have experience fixing bikes, clean them and begin tinkering with them. Kurmaskie said experience is not necessary as they have worksheets and more experienced volunteers to help guide the process, adding that he would encourage anyone to show up to volunteer their time to this effort.
"It's wonderful to see guys, they've never worked on bikes but suddenly know how to change a tire," he said.
After they're fixed, shiny and ready to go, the bikes are then shipped to a variety of organizations including schools, churches, boys and girls clubs, Head Start programs, Ukrainian and Afghan refugees and more. Making sure the recipient feels proud of the bike they've received is paramount in this effort.
"The key thing here is we're not getting a bike in and turning it over and handing it to somebody," Kurmaskie said. "We want this bike to be as if my son or my sister or someone I cared about was getting it."
Lake Oswego resident and volunteer Kevin Faris is an avid biker, so tinkering with tires and pedals was not a challenge for him. Still, he expressed satisfaction about helping out an organization that provides transportation options for underserved communities.
"I think one of the two top things I enjoy about it is one, it gets bikes out of garages or basements and wherever they're stored and not being used and (is) getting them to people who use them and need them," Faris said. "And it promotes cycling. It's a fun activity, gets you to work, to places you've never been. And it's a really good organization and a great group to work with."
WashCo Bikes, Ridwell and Providence plan to host another bike drive this October and will continue working together after that. For his part, Kurmaskie finds joy from seeing WashCo Bikes stickers on bicycle frames throughout the region and witnessing a kid learn how to ride on one of the bikes his organization has provided for them.
"Those are the kind of stories that make it worth it," he said.
A previous version of this story did not specify that Free Bikes 4 Kidz also helped organize the event
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